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The Bear and the Amateur Gardener

(Recueil 2, Livre 8, Fable 10)



A certain mountain bear, unlicked and rude,

By fate confined within a lonely wood,

A new Bellerophon, whose life,

Knew neither comrade, friend, nor wife,

Became insane; for reason, as we term it,

Dwells never long with any hermit.

It's good to mix in good society,

Obeying rules of due propriety;

And better yet to be alone;

But both are ills when overdone.

No animal had business where

All grimly dwelt our hermit bear;

Hence, bearish as he was, he grew

Heart sick, and longed for something new.

While he to sadness was addicted,

An aged man, not far from there,

Was by the same disease afflicted.

A garden was his favourite care,

Sweet Flora's priesthood, light and fair,

And eke Pomona's ripe and red

The presents that her fingers shed.

These two employments, true, are sweet

When made so by some friend discreet.

The gardens, gaily as they look,

Talk not, (except in this my book;)

So, tiring of the deaf and dumb,

Our man one morning left his home

Some company to seek,

That had the power to speak.

The bear, with thoughts the same,

Down from his mountain came;

And in a solitary place,

They met each other, face to face.

It would have made the boldest tremble;

What did our man? To play the Gascon

The safest seemed. He put the mask on,

His fear contriving to dissemble.

The bear, unused to compliment,

Growled bluntly, but with good intent,

"Come home with me." The man replied:

"Sir Bear, my lodgings, nearer by,

In yonder garden you may spy,

Where, if you'll honour me the while,

We'll break our fast in rural style.

I have fruits and milk, unworthy fare,

It may be, for a wealthy bear;

But then I offer what I have."

The bear accepts, with visage grave,

But not unpleased; and on their way,

They grow familiar, friendly, gay.

Arrived, you see them, side by side,

As if their friendship had been tried.

To a companion so absurd,

Blank solitude were well preferred,

Yet, as the bear scarce spoke a word,

The man was left quite at his leisure

To trim his garden at his pleasure.

Sir Bruin hunted always brought

His friend whatever game he caught;

But chiefly aimed at driving flies

Those hold and shameless parasites,

That vex us with their ceaseless bites

From off our gardener's face and eyes.

One day, while, stretched on the ground

The old man lay, in sleep profound,

A fly that buzz'd around his nose,

And bit it sometimes, I suppose,

Put Bruin sadly to his trumps.

At last, determined, up he jumps;

"I'll stop your noisy buzzing now,"

Says he; "I know precisely how."

No sooner said than done.

He seized a paving-stone;

And by his modus operandi

Did both the fly and man die.

A foolish friend may cause more woe

Than could, indeed, the wisest foe.

Jean de La Fontaine

Book 8, Fable 10



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